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About the exhibition
Chagall, Paris - New York
Exhibition Curated Themes
Marc Chagall , The Bridge of Passy and the Eiffel Tower , 1911 , oil on canvas , 58 x 79 cm , Private Collection , Photo: Bridgeman Images , © Adagp, Paris, 2023
PARIS, THE CAPITAL OF MODERNITY
Chagall settled in Paris in 1911, when he was twenty-four. Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, and the other avant-garde movements at the beginning of the Twentieth Century rapidly influenced how he conceived his portraits and figures during this period.
Working in a studio in La Ruche (‘The Beehive’), Chagall not only frequented painters (Picasso, Delaunay, Gris, Soutine, etc.) and sculptors (such as Laurens, Zadkine, and Lipchitz), but also poets like Cendrars and Apollinaire, and stage directors such as Diaghileff.
Although he did not join any of the art movements, he was part of the vast multidisciplinary laboratory of Montparnasse in the 1910s, and incorporated into his works all the influences he was receptive to, which he transformed into his own universe in his already highly personal style.
Marc Chagall , The Blue House , 1920 , oil on canvas , 66 × 97 cm , Collection Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Liège, Belgium , Photo: akg images , © Adagp, Paris 2023
VITEBSK: BETWEEN TRADITION AND AVANT-GARDE
Having left France to go back to his native city, Vitebsk, Chagall was obliged to stay in Russia following the declaration of war in 1914. The historical events increased his desire to attest to them on a daily basis and accurately document the suffering endured by the citizens.
It was from the perspective of his Parisian experience that Chagall revisited Russian pictorial tradition, popular art, and neo-primitivism, by representing his relatives, the inhabitants of his village, and the places of his childhood. Ever aware of contemporary issues, he shared some of the concerns and projects of the Russian avant-garde artists, such as the acknowledgement of the artist’s status, collaborative art, and urban decoration projects.
Marc Chagall , The Wolf and the Stork , ca. 1927 , gouache, color ink and black pencil on grey light paper , 51,1 x 41,2 cm , collection Larock-Granoff, Paris, France , Photo © Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris , © Adagp, Paris, 2023
FABLES AND THE CIRCUS
Once he had definitively returned to Paris, in 1923, Chagall worked in his studio, and painted his wife, Bella, whom he married in Vitebsk in 1915. She became indispensable and the main subject of many of his pictures. She read La Fontaine’s Fables to him; Ambroise Vollard commissioned from Chagall a new edition with etched illustrations in 1927. This work was one of many illustration projects for literary texts, which prompted Chagall to conduct a new series of technical experiments, from gouache to black and white.
The fluidity and spontaneity of the lines characterised the artist’s paintings and it was again with gouache and prints that Chagall created, shortly after, many pieces devoted to the theme of the circus. This topic in pictorial tradition provided him with an opportunity to explore an entirely different and enchanting theme with its bright colours and entertaining subjects. Chagall used the symbolism of the circus to better embody his personal vision of the dim future of his people and Europe, foreshadowed by the first anti-Semitic demonstrations.
Marc Chagall , The Falling Angel , 1923-1933-1947 , oil on canvas , 147,5 x 188,5 cm , Kunstmuseum Basel, on deposit since 1955 , Photo © Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris , © Adagp, Paris, 2023
With The Falling Angel, an imposing red figure emerges against a black background, heralding the imminent threat of war and The Holocaust. In a state of constant awareness, Chagall focused on the dramatic events of his times, and, in the three panels of the famous triptych Résistance, Libération, Résurrection, he represented the suffering of persecution, destruction, and exodus, bearing witness to the fate of his people. The references to Vitebsk and his own history matched the collective experience represented by the crowds of figures that symbolize the larger community. In this sequence, with its strong emotional impact, there is an evident link between the events of his times and his powerful, unequivocal pictorial language.
Marc Chagall in New York , 1941 , Photo © Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris , © Adagp, Paris 2023
THE DISCOVERY OF NEW YORK
The political context - the introduction of anti-Semitic laws in France and his denaturalisation by Pétain’s Vichy government forced Chagall to go into exile at the end of 1940. In 1941, he succeeded to flee to New York with his wife, along with several artists made up of Russian and Jewish poets who joined a dynamic artistic and literary community. Coming from Paris, New York, with its skyscrapers and large avenues, was an impressive and stunning metropolis for the Russian artist who was accustomed to European spaces. Once again, the new-found opportunities in the New World rejuvenated Chagall’s art. His fascination with the city and its architecture renewed his conception and vision of space, with which he had already experimented in Vitebsk.
Marc Chagall , Ceiling of Opera Garnier , opened on 1964 , oil on canvas , 200 m² , Opéra national de Paris, Palais Garnier , Photo: © Jean-Pierre Delagarde / Opéra national de Paris / Palais Garnier , © Adagp, Paris, 2023
CHAGALL’S RETURN TO FRANCE AND EXPLORATION OF INNOVANT EXPRESSION
In 1948, Chagall was finally able to envisage returning to Europe. In the post-war period, he found serenity once again in his ‘second homeland’, France. Chagall embarked on a new artistic phase that focused on experimentation. He learned about new techniques and materials such as washes, ceramics, stone, marble, plaster, and bronze, which provided him with previously unexplored means of expression.
The most important monumental projects that Chagall worked on in the 1960s, (such as the famous Opéra Garnier ceiling in Paris and the large panels for the hall of the Lincoln Center in New York), were produced in a large multidisciplinary ‘studio’. These pieces were characterized by the mastery and constant renewal of color as the primary element in his art, and deep and extensive reflection about the spatial and architectural values of painting.
Marc Chagall , America Windows , Stained glass , 244 × 978 cm , The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA, A gift of Marc Chagall, the City of Chicago, and the Auxiliary Board of The Art Institute of Chicago, commemorating the American Bicentennial in memory of Mayor Richard J. Daley , Photo: akg-images , © Vitrail de Marc Chagall réalisé en collaboration avec Charles Marq / Adagp, Paris 2023
PAINTING LIGHT AND PAINTING MATERIALS
His exploration of mosaics, in 1955, and glass, as of 1958, considerably enriched Chagall’s monumental vision. These techniques enabled him to review and renew his treatment of materials and light in his oeuvre.
Marc Chagall’s experimentation is also evident in the cycles of collages. These astonishing compositions in paper and fabric were used by the artist as preparatory sketches for monumental pieces, in which geometric forms were combined with bright colors—from sunny yellow to indigo blue, and magenta pink to absinth green. This entertaining and sensorial approach was certainly influenced by sculpture and ceramics, particularly when the artist placed sand, sawdust, or plants on the support, highlighting a vibrant plastic and organic material.
Marc Chagall , The song of songs IV , 1958 , oil on paper and painting on canvas mounted cardboard , 144,5 x 210,5 cm , Gift of Marc et Valentina Chagall, 1966, musée national Marc Chagall, Nice , Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée Marc Chagall) / Adrien Didierjean , © Adagp, Paris, 2023
THE BIBLICAL MESSAGE
Executed in the 1950s and ‘60s, the ‘Biblical Message’ series graces the walls of the Musée National Marc Chagall in Nice. Close-up shots of the pictorial matter immerse the viewer in several decades of experimentation using every technique and medium, which, in return, nourished his painting (the first medium adopted by Chagall). It was transformed and enriched thanks to the study of black, white and shades of grey made possible by the techniques of printing and washes, the transparency and reflections of the stained-glass windows and monumental mosaics, the creation of depth, as well as the use of topography. In these representations of biblical scenes, the wealth of sources of the cosmopolitan artist can be seen, who was always receptive to the art of his day, and who succeeded in reconciling the highly diverse influences of ancient, modern, and contemporary art - traditional and popular forms of expression - in an enchanting and unique oeuvre.
After studying painting in artists’ studios in Vitebsk and St Petersburg, Chagall settled in Paris and moved into La Ruche (‘the Beehive’) in 1911, where his neighbors included artists and writers such as Léger, Laurens, Modigliani, Cendrars, and Apollinaire.
His first solo exhibition was held in Berlin in 1914 at the gallery Der Sturm. In the same year, he returned to White Russia for a short stay, but became stranded by the outbreak of WWI. He married Bella Rosenfeld in 1915.
Chagall left Russia definitively and lived in Berlin for 9 months, where he learned the techniques of engraving. He then returned to Paris in 1923. Vollard commissioned him to create etchings to illustrate Gogol’s Dead Souls (1924–25), La Fontaine’s Fables (1926–28), and the Bible (1930–39).
1934 - 1937
Concerned about the political climate, revolutionary themes and portraits of Jews with a Torah become recurrent themes. After two refusals, he finally obtained the French nationality in 1937. In the same year, three of his works held in German museums, are classified as ‘degenerate art’.
Thanks to an invitation from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Varian Fry and the representative of the Emergency Rescue Committee, the denaturalised couple, succeed in leaving France and Europe in the nick of time and settle in the United States in 1941.
1942 - 1944
Chagall travels to Mexico to produce the sets and costumes for the ballet Aleko, based on Pushkin’s The Gypsies, with music by Tchaikovsky. War is a recurrent theme in his works. In 1944, Bella Chagall died of a streptococcus infection.
Chagall returns to France, in a house in Orgeval, which immediately becomes a meeting place for artists.
Chagall began the series of ‘Biblical Message’ paintings, which he finished in 1966. He also began working at the Simon workshops in Reims with the master stained-glass craftsman himself, Charles Marq.
At the request of André Malraux, Chagall starts work on the model of the new Paris Opéra ceiling, inaugurated in 1964.
The Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall (the Marc Chagall National Museum of the Bible Message) in Nice was inaugurated in the presence of André Malraux.
listen to the playlist of the exhibition
Work of the month
In Birthday, Chagall celebrates his love for Bella, whom he married upon his return to Russia. The couple are radiantly happy, far from the world and the outbreak of war in Europe. A new life is opening up to them. It was in St. Petersburg in 1909 that Chagall, then an art student, met Bella Rosenfeld who was also from Vitebsk. The painter recalled the love at first sight in his autobiography My Life, "She looks — oh, her eyes! — I look too. As if we knew each other a long time ago, and she knows everything about me: my childhood, my present life and what will happen to me; as if she was always watching me, was somewhere nearby, although I saw her for the first time.” Bella will change Chagall's life forever. Through her education and culture, she revealed other art forms to him.
Marc Chagall, Birthday, 1915, oil on cardboard, 80,6 x 99,7 cm, Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (by exchange), Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
Paris par la fenêtre
Marc Chagall , 1913 , huile sur toile , 136 x 141,9 cm , Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Etats-Unis , Photo © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY , © Adagp, Paris, 2023
Le Triomphe de la Musique
Marc Chagall , 1966 , maquette définitive pour la peinture murale du Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York, tempera, gouache et collage sur papier marouflé sur papier coréen , 109 × 91,5 cm , collection privée , Photo © Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris , © Adagp, Paris 2023
La Tribu de Levi
Marc Chagall , 1962 , vitrail , Synagogue du Centre Médical Hadassah, Jérusalem, Israël, © Photograph by Yuval Yairi , © Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Owns the rights to the photograph and of the Chagall Windows, 2013, © Vitrail de Marc Chagall réalisé en collaboration avec Charles Marq , © Adagp, Paris 2023
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